Insider Report: Summer surge won’t stop

How did Notre Dame turn June into moving month with recruiting? Who are the best bets for the next commitment? What do you need to watch at The Opening? Why is Markese Stepp an effective recruiter? The Insider Report explains all.

Brian Kelly does some of his best recruiting work in June.

It’s the month the Irish landed Jaylon Smith, Isaac Rochell, Shaun Crawford, DeShone Kizer and Jerry Tillery. And based on the past two cycles, June may get even more productive for Notre Dame as Irish Invasion continues to grow.

“Camp season is popular for commitments because of a few factors,” said Allen Trieu, Scout.com’s Midwest recruiting manager. “First, kids get offered at camps and if it's one the kid has been waiting on – and a lot of the time it is, which is why they came to camp – they're more likely to jump on it. Second, camps are a chance for kids to get on campus. Sometimes kids come to camp just to hang out and don't even participate. Camps coincide with school being done so a lot of the time, it's the first opportunity for kids to get to some of these campuses.

“And then last, I think kids want to commit in June so they can enjoy their summer and start preparing for two a days and the fall season.”

Defensive end Jonathon MacCollister and wide receiver Jordan Pouncey committed during the Irish Invasion weekend. Four-star athlete Saiid Adebo, who visited for Junior Day in the spring, announced his commitment a couple days later. The results have Notre Dame with 13 commitments and the nation’s Top 5 class on Scout.

Notre Dame also dipped into the underclassman ranks with commitments from four-star running back Markese Stepp, defensive end Jayson Ademilola and linebacker Justin Ademilola.

Adding Stepp and the Ademilola twins pushed the Irish to four commitments in the Class of 2018, following quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Kelly has never landed more underclassmen in a June than those three.

“It speaks very well to their recruiting efforts,” Trieu said. “Stepp is a kid who had quite a few great options and he could have kept waiting but saw that Notre Dame was the right place and kids jumping in early, especially kids with lengthy offer lists, shows that the Irish have quite a bit of momentum right now.”

There’s been an uptick in June commitments with the addition of Irish Invasion.

Marketing Irish Invasion as a marquee event started in June 2014. Seven prospects committed that month, some of which attended Invasion, in Brandon Tiassum, Micah Dew-Treadway, Nick Coleman, Elijah Taylor, Crawford, Justin Yoon and Josh Adams.

Compare that to the four Junes that preceded Irish Invasion. From 2010-13, Notre Dame signed just 10 commitments that popped for the Irish in June. Since Irish Invasion got off the ground two summers ago, Notre Dame has landed 18 commitments during the month.

There was the seven-commitment run two summers ago. Last June netted five — Kevin Stepherson, Jalen Elliott, Jamir Jones, Spencer Perry and underclassman Brock Wright. Notre Dame landed six this June with three rising seniors and three underclassmen.

These numbers are why Irish Invasion continues to be a big deal for Notre Dame.

“There's a lot of excitement around those events,” Trieu said. “There are a lot of top prospects, media coverage, a lot of ‘hype’ as the kids say. So it gets the kids energized about a school and lets them see the program in a very positive light. I think those events are about as close to a game day atmosphere as you can get in the offseason, so to get to experience that in June or July is why I think they're an effective recruiting tool.

“Not only that, but I'm sure the presence of other top recruits on campus makes kids realize they may not have too long before they lose their spot.”

Who’s Got Next?

The question never goes out of style.

Who will commit to Notre Dame next?

With a productive June in the books, here are a few names to consider for July. Look for the Irish to land at least two of these athletes in the coming weeks, likely getting bigger in the trenches in the process.

- Scout 300 wide receiver Tarik Black – Following last weekend’s visit to Notre Dame, Irish Illustrated reported Black would no longer visit Stanford and UCLA in July. We also reported a silent verbal would come before the calendar turned to July. It won’t be made public until January at the Army All-American Bowl, but Notre Dame is our projection.

- Scout 300 offensive lineman Robert Hainsey – Notre Dame hosted Hainsey and his mother for Irish Invasion, and that’s when we believe the Irish pulled ahead of their Big Ten counterparts. Hainsey will announce a decision at The Opening among Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. We like the Irish.

- Scout 300 defensive tackle Darnell Ewell – One of the best prospects out of the Tidewater region, Ewell visited last weekend and Notre Dame is now the favorite. He plans to announce on July 15. Ohio State is also in the picture, but the Buckeyes might not have room to take him.

Others that could pull the trigger for Notre Dame before the start of the season: safety Amari Carter, athlete/running back C.J. Holmes, wide receiver Michael Young, defensive ends K'Jakyre Daley and Chris Whittaker (both expected on campus in July) and 2018 defensive end Malik Vann.

Bulldogs Favorites For Beal

When Irish Illustrated reported in early May that Scout 300 defensive end Robert Beal was reconsidering Notre Dame, we also reported the Irish were underdogs.

Other programs, notably Alabama, Georgia and Florida State, were in better shape with the four-star prospect. That continues to be the case despite hype elsewhere that the Irish were serious players for their former marquee commitment.

Beal was scheduled to be on campus for Irish Invasion but cancelled. The staff was hopeful Beal would visit in July, but those odds are shrinking.

The in-state Bulldogs should be viewed as the favorite.  A decision is expected this month.

Look Ahead: The Opening Finals

The recruiting season’s premier event kicks off next week at Nike when The Opening Finals begin with testing, lineman competitions and a 7-on-7 tournament that wraps on July 10. Irish Illustrated will be in Beaverton, Ore., with Jake Brown and Steve Hare for video and analysis.

For the first time since Brian Kelly arrived in South Bend the Irish won’t have a commitment at the event, at least when it begins. A few commits competed in The Opening Regionals but none earned invites to the Finals. Quarterback Avery Davis came closest. He advanced to the Elite 11 Finals in June, but wasn’t one of the 12 quarterbacks to advance to Nike. Defensive tackle Kurt Hinish also gave it a shot at a regional but didn’t advance.

But that’s not to say there will be nothing for Irish fans to track. Dozens of Notre Dame targets will be on hand to compete, including one scheduled to announce his commitment.

All eyes on Hainsey: Four-star offensive lineman Robert Hainsey announced plans last week to reveal his college choice while at The Opening Finals. He’s down to Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. As of now, an exact time and date has yet to be set. Could the Irish add a commitment at Nike for the second straight year, following Chase Claypool last July?

Battle in the trenches: There will be plenty of action to track between offensive and defensive linemen. Hunter Echols, Joshua Kaindoh, Joshua Paschal, LaBryan Ray, Jay Tufele and Chase Young are some of the defensive linemen worth remembering. Hainsey, Jamaree Salyer (2018), Foster Sarell, Trey Smith, Andrew Thomas and Jedrick Wills make a strong list of Harry Hiestand’s top targets. They’ll all be ready to compete.

Invasion LB duo: Five-star linebacker Baron Browning and four-star Justin Foster are both scheduled to attend. They attended Irish Invasion as two of the most highly regarded prospects on hand. Neither have done many interviews since, so hearing from them on the visit and their recruitments in general will be a big part of the week.

Detroit crew: Safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell and cornerback Ambry Thomas will both make their way to Oregon, also fresh off Irish Invasion visits. Notre Dame has made inroads with both, although it’s never easy to pull Detroit prospects away from the in-state programs or Ohio State. Four-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones will also be on hand to defend his rating championship.

Irish Illustrated will provide more in-depth previews as the event nears.

Stepp Takes Recruiting Role

Markese Stepp is to Notre Dame’s ‘18 recruiting class what the 12th man is to Seattle.

That may be hyperbole, but since committing after Irish Invasion, the running back has been one of Notre Dame’s most active recruiters on social media.

“It just comes natural,” Stepp said. “I’m so excited about Notre Dame that I want others to realize how great it is too. It’s mostly through Twitter and (direct messaging). I kind of figure it out on my own who are the important targets.”

Stepp has reached out to a number of priority targets in his class.

“I’ve talked to Jaelen Gill, Malik Vann, Houston Griffith, Aeneas Hawkins and Ovie Oghoufo,” Stepp said. “I’m really trying to get Gill and Bookie Radley-Hiles out here. I feel like if we get them on campus, then they’ll fall in love with it.”

In addition to Stepp, Notre Dame has ’18 commitments from quarterback Phil Jurkovec, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola and linebacker Justin Ademilola.

“We have a group chat going with us four and all kind of talk about recruiting,” Stepp said. “I know them all now too. I met Phil at Irish Invasion and the twins when they were on campus this weekend.”

If Stepp had to predict the next ‘18 commitment, who would it be?

“Probably Hawkins or Vann. I just tell them (Notre Dame) is the closest thing to heaven.”

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